Name: Shari Stone-Mediatore
Title: Professor of Philosophy
Experience: Travel-Learning Course, “Modernity & Colonialism: Global Perspectives on History, Justice, and Truth”
“My home department is Philosophy; I also teach in Women’s & Gender Studies, Environmental Studies, and Latin American Studies. My scholarship is in the fields of global ethics, feminist philosophy, and the politics of knowledge.
“My Travel-Learning Course, ‘Modernity & Colonialism,’ examines how European-Enlightenment notions of modernity and progress continue to influence all of us and how we can gain new perspective on these pillars of modern life when we consider them from the standpoint of people struggling with the aftermath of colonialism. The course also explores how we might develop identities, projects, and cross-cultural relationships that resist colonialist dynamics.
“For the travel portion of the course, I chose to travel to a Zapatista community in Chiapas, Mexico. I chose this region because the Zapatistas have rejected the authority and inevitability of neoliberal globalization (which they consider an extension of colonialism) and have claimed autonomy from the Mexican state in order to pursue forms of progress and democracy more sensitive to indigenous people’s ties to the land and cultural diversity.
“From talking and living with people in a Zapatista Caracol*, we learned a great deal about what democracy and human dignity means to people whose communities have been struggling since the Conquest for human recognition. … [W]hen we asked them about why they are Zapatistas and what liberty means to them, one man told us how the government jails or kills workers who try to organize. He emphasized that liberty must mean the ability to organize with other campesinos without threats to their lives.
“We also met leaders of the Zapatista women’s co-op. They stressed the hardships of being a Zapatista, because the government was bribing the neighboring non-Zapatista communities with all sorts of aid, which the Zapatistas didn’t get, and encouraging them to harass the Zapatistas. In fact, while we were visiting the women, teenage boys banged on the walls and threw rocks at the building. And we learned that one woman’s father had been shot dead by the paramilitary while he was working in his field. Despite all of this, the women were committed to their cooperative and to the Zapatista community.
“We also learned a great deal from our short experience of trying to live sustainably and meet our own basic needs. We learned to appreciate the tremendous time and energy that it takes to turn fuel into a meal; the first morning, it took us two hours just to make oatmeal! We learned that our comfortable lives are possible only because other people are working from dawn to dusk to produce all of our material goods. We learned that other people do not necessarily want our material conveniences or ways of life, but want the autonomy and land-access to create and enjoy their own lives. And we learned to appreciate a simple meal that we cooked ourselves.
“We also learned the joy of being part of a community. One night, Michael Cormier ’14, Megan Pinto ’14, Anna Jones ’15, and Matt Mehaffy ’17 cooked (over a smoky wood fire) a beef stew for the entire community of 120 people! The hard work paid off when we shared the meal together and when the community members, who eat meat only a few times a year, thanked us for the dinner.
“As a teacher, I also learned a great deal about my students from traveling and living with them. I learned that each of them has unique and wonderful life skills, such as skills in organizing a kitchen crew under difficult conditions, in crossing cultural boundaries with art or music, and in attending to others’ subtle signs of stress. I never would have seen these skills in a regular classroom. This experience has challenged me to create more forums in which students’ practical, creative, and social skills can be utilized in connection with our academic projects.”
* “The specific community that we visited was called Roberto Caracol. ‘Caracol,’ in Spanish means ‘snail’ or ‘shell,’ and the Zapatistas chose this image to represent the place where ‘the inside meets the outside,’ that is, the Zapatista communities meet people from the outside world. This Caracol is located in a rural jungle area, replete with howler monkeys, butterflies, and coconut trees. It is the location for a local governing council, a school, and a women’s cooperative, all of whom live in the Caracol (sometimes with their families) when they are involved in their official Zapatista projects. The Caracol includes several primitive buildings, a primitive cooking area, a basketball court (which doubles as a large area for drying beans), and a beautiful river right outside its boundaries for swimming and bathing.”